Portugal: Porto

Porto's recently launched Convention Bureau is now operational and allows the city to pursue vigorously incoming MICE business. "We can improve the service we provide to all those agencies that want to organise events in Porto and the north of Portugal," says marketing executive Paulo Pimenta.

"There is an increase in requests and queries about Porto. We are a very versatile destination where people can hold several events from small business meetings to large conferences, from product launches to very creative incentive trips, and we are working hard to pass on that message of versatility."

Porto expects a significant boost from corporate hospitality events surrounding Euro 2004. There are eight games being played in Porto itself and eight others in cities close by. In Porto, both the Dragao Stadium and Boavista have sky boxes as do the stadiums in other cities. And, after the games, Dragao Stadium will have rooms that can be rented for small meetings and launches.

Pimenta believes that the impact on C&I business will go well beyond the championships."We are confident that the greatest increase will be after Euro 2004 due to the fact that we will be appearing on international news broadcasts for three weeks in a row."

ATM Corporate Events managing director Paul Wild says he was surprised by the city's conference venues and impressed by incentive activities and dining options.

"It's probably not in the top three for conferences of more than 400 people because of the need to split groups between three or four hotels. But it would be fantastic for, say, 200."

Teresa Leitmann, responsible for the UK market at DMC AIMS Portugal, says fam trips are a good way to promote the city.

"Porto is not yet gaining as much UK MICE business as we are trying to achieve. We are doing fam trips but the city is not sufficiently well known that people would want to take the risk," she says.

Investment is being made to improve the city's infrastructure. Projects include the airport development costing EUR300m (£204.5m), a light metro urban transport network in the city centre and a motorway bridge.

There is also considerable private sector investment. The newest hotel in Porto is the Sheraton Park, which opened in November. According to Pimenta other properties in the area have had to improve their own service and standards to match.

HOTEL FACT FILE

The 266-room Sheraton Porto Hotel and Spa opened in November last year and is the largest conference hotel in the city. The new-build property offers a selection of 13 meeting spaces with a theatre-style event capacity of 850.

The 232-room Le Meridien Park Atlantic Porto has renovated its two executive floors at the top of the hotel. The largest of its 11 event rooms has theatre-style capacity of 400 people. The renovations were well received by UK agents on a fam trip in November. After the Euro 2004 event the remaining nine floors will be renovated.

An increasingly popular incentive property is the Palace Hotel Bussaco, 90 minutes from Porto, a former king's hunting palace surrounded by a fantastic landscape complete with forest. With 64 rooms, the regal property can cater for meetings from between 10 and 150.

Located in the modern city centre, the Porto Palacio Hotel offers visitors 250 rooms. It has nine meeting rooms, the largest of which can cater for up to 330 delegates theatre-style.

INCENTIVE IDEAS

Portugal Travel Team uses a number of port wine farms in the Duoro Valley region to provide groups with a learning experience centred on wine-making techniques from grape-picking to final product (dispatched to participants a year later). The smaller the group, the more intense the learning experience. Dinner can be added to make a whole-day event.

A popular gala dinner venue is the Grand Palacio da Bolsa, one of the most notable examples of neo-classical architecture in the city. The variety of opulent halls and salons can host dinners from 30 to 600. Alternatively, a medieval-themed dinner is on offer at Guimaraes Castle.

AGENCY COMMENT

"I've used Portugal quite a bit but never Porto before," says director of Accord Conferences Sue Clough who recently went on a fam trip to Le Meridien Park Atlantic Porto. "It was a really surprising destination and there was certainly more there to do and see than anyone expected." Clough was particularly impressed by the Alfandega Conference Centre, a former customs house, and she describes the surrounding Douro Valley with its many wineries as "spectacular".

"Porto is off the beaten track and a little bit different. I would certainly recommend it for a range of meetings - although probably not anything too large - or incentives," she concludes.

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